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Frankenfood & Federal Elections

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A crop circle made by Greenpeace activists in Monsanto’s NK603 genetically engineered (GE) corn.

Greenpeace Canada, in conjunction with a coalition of civil society groups, is asking all Canadian federal election candidates, and Parties, to support a moratorium on all new genetically engineered (GE) crops and food approvals until the government’s procedures for GE risk assessment have been reviewed and strengthened to meet strict international and scientific standards.

Greenpeace reports that Canada is one of the largest producers of GE crops in the world and, across the country, up to 70% of processed foods found in grocery stores contain, or may contain, GE ingredients. The most common GE ingredients come from crops like corn, soy, canola and cotton.

The American-based Say No to GMO organization describes genetically modified crops and foods as "…a new technology that forces genetic information across the protective species barrier in an unnatural way". Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) explains how with GMO technology, "…any gene from any plant, animal, bacterium, fungus or virus can be inserted into the DNA in reproductive cells of any other organism".

We caught up with Josh Brandon, Agriculture Campaigner for Greenpeace Canada and asked a few questions about Frankenfoods, our government’s track record on GE crops, and which political parties are most likely to support the moratorium.

The central problem with how Canada regulates GE is that we leave the biotechnology companies in charge of policing themselves.
—Josh Brandon, Greenpeace Canada.

What is Greenpeace Canada asking for exactly?

We are demanding a moratorium on all new approvals for genetically engineered crops and foods to reduce our exposure to dangerous environmental risks and because of the uncertain health effects of genetically engineered foods. A wide range of scientific and health experts have criticized the Canadian government's lack of oversight and independent review of GE products. Most notably, the Royal Society of Canada's expert panel on biotechnology issued 58 recommendations in 2001 which have yet to be implemented by either Liberal or Conservative governments.

The central problem with how Canada regulates GE is that we leave the biotechnology companies in charge of policing themselves. Of course Monsanto will tell you their products are safe, for human health and the environment, but Monsanto has a very poor record on environmental safety. We need a precautionary approach that independently evaluates the full impact of GE products including their social, economic, environmental and health effects. Until that system is in place, Canada needs a moratorium.

Our current government has an atrocious record on assessing the risks of GE crops.
—Josh Brandon, Greenpeace Canada.

What would Greenpeace like to see happen in the election?

In this election, we see that food safety concerns are foremost on Canadians minds. We need all the parties in this election to answer the fundamental question of how they will make Canada's food system safe.

We would expect every party to get on board and support the call for mandatory labelling of genetically engineered foods, given overwhelming support for labelling among Canadians (80% or more in most polls). Unfortunately, both the Liberals and the Conservatives did not support initiatives to label GE foods.

Greenpeace has published a list of how MPs voted on an important bill which would have seen GE foods labelled, bill c-517.

We hope Canadians elect a parliament that will support mandatory labelling and promote a precautionary approach by installing a moratorium on new GE crops and foods.

Stephen Harper has refused to re-evaluate GE crops even when scientific evidence shows they may pose health and safety risks.
—Josh Brandon, Greenpeace Canada.

How is the current government's record on assessing the risks of GE crops?

Our current government has an atrocious record on assessing the risks of GE crops. Stephen Harper has refused to re-evaluate GE crops even when scientific evidence shows they may pose health and safety risks. For example, last year a type of GE corn which produces a pesticide toxic to certain types of moths and butterflies, was discovered to have produced health problems in rat feeding trials. The corn known as MON863 caused rats to have greater liver and kidney problems after just 90 days. Still the Harper government refused to reevaluate the product and it continues to be unlabelled in foods Canadians feed their families.

Is one political party better/worse than another?

The Conservatives and Liberals have both been largely unsupportive in GE labeling and other initiatives to better regulate GE. Though some individual Liberal and Conservative MPs have been more independent (again see the ‘How they Voted’.) Neither government has supported important international treaties on the trans-border movement of GE organisms.

The NDP, Greens and Bloc Quebecois have all been pushing for better regulation in recent years. Both the Bloc and the NDP have put forward private members' bills in the recent parliament to label GE foods, and/or ban GE terminator technology.

Which party is most likely to do something about GE regulations, and/or labelling?

The NDP and the Bloc have the best records in parliament on this issue, and the Green party has some excellent policy. Unfortunately, the Liberals and Conservatives are far off from the mainstream of Canadians' views on this issue.

To find out more visit: http://www.greenpeace.org/canada/

 

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